West Virginia, K-State both searching for first Big 12 win

MANHATTAN, Kan. — Good morning from the Little Apple, where the West Virginia men’s hoops team will battle Kansas State in a meeting of two teams thought to be at the top of the Big 12 in October, but injuries have taken a toll on both teams and they are now still looking for their first league win.

“We need a win bad for a lot of reasons,” WVU coach Bob Huggins said in his teleconference on Tuesday.

The Mountaineers (8-6, 0-2 Big 12) have been close in losses to Texas Tech and Texas and Huggins pointed out the lack of free throws (18 of 32) against the Red Raiders and how WVU was in a one-possession game against the Longhorns going into the final minutes.

“We played the hardest we played all year the last couple of games,” Huggins said. “We were right there. We just didn’t finish the way we needed to.”

An argument can be made that the Mountaineers are a few plays away from going for a 3-0 start, rather than going for their first league win. K-State (10-4, 0-2) has not been quite as close, losing to Texas, 67-47, in a game the Longhorns pulled away in the second half and also losing to Texas Tech, 63-57, in a game that was 34-19 at the half in Lubbock, Texas.

But, records and stats do not make room for close calls and should’ve-could’ve-would’ve, and so we are left with what once looked like a marquee matchup, but is now a game simply to stay above water and out of the Big 12 cellar.

Here’s what you need to know:

TV: ESPNU for the 7 p.m. tip-off. BETTING LINE: K-State is favored by 4 points.

THREE GOOD QUESTIONS

Who is available for WVU? Huggins said point guard Brandon Knapper made the trip, so the Mountaineers are expected to be at full strength minus center Sagaba Konate (knee). Knapper missed the Texas game Saturday with a one game suspension for “conduct unbecoming of a Mountaineer,” Huggins said. As for K-State, senior forward Dean Wade is out with a foot injury, which has been the source of the Wildcats’ troubles.

What can we expect today? Likely a low-scoring defensive game, and not because of who is in or out, but because that has generally been the style of games these two teams play against each other, especially at Bramlage Coliseum. Both teams combined for 44 fouls when they played here last season. There were 49 fouls here in 2017,  53 fouls in a double-overtime game in 2016 and 54 fouls in the 2015 game. Plus, both teams are struggling offensively (K-State is averaging 52 points in conference play). So, both teams will likely look for a possession-by-possession type of game and work the shot clock.

Will Derek Culver continue his rapid emergence? If the game becomes a grind-it-out style of game, that would seem to suit Culver’s style of play. A slower-pace game means working the ball around and working it inside and that has been where Culver has thrived, because it allows him to be patient and make some plays in the post and he doesn’t have to be constantly running and trapping and trying to think at 100 mph. The slower style can also lead to foul trouble, because the Wildcats are going to work the ball inside on their possessions, too. So, if Culver, who is averaging 11.0 points and 7.3 rebounds over his first four games, can stay out of foul trouble — Huggins will likely keep starting Logan Routt at center to help in this area — this is a game where Culver will likely have an impact.

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